Sunday, August 30, 2015

Raindrops on fennel

We've had a drop of rain. Which was OK, than became a little tiresome especially accompanied by winds more equinoctial in character than suited to the season, 'not the yellow Provençal August that the English dream of' as I say every year, I think.

Never mind, raindrops on roses, or anything else, might not quite be my favourite thing but they really aren't bad, on leaves of  hypericum, for example:

We have a lot of fennel, the bronze kind. We must have bought a plant once but we've somewhat rued the day (umbelliferous pun there), since it sows itself promiscuously everywhere now: in the terrace gravel, the flower pots, the vegetable beds... I pull it up briskly but find it hard to throw it away, and often heel it in somewhere else. It doesn't seem to mind.

Fennel is quite good for culinary purposes, though there's a limit. But it's a graceful plant, and when it comes into it's own is after a shower of rain:

One of the appealing things about water drops is that they act as little lenses. Generally the naked eye, mine at least, can't really catch this, but with the additional aid of the camera lens, and subsequent cropping and enlargement, and upside-down image of the object behind is often to be seen within them. Thus:

A fish-eye view of the barn and blue washing.

I always think my first, old camera was best for this (I just looked back over those and yes, it really was), but it's still worth attempting.


Off to a garden party this afternoon given by a local expat association in aid of the local dog refuge, where I imagine many adorable rescued dogs will be to be seen. This is doubtless a very self-tormenting thing to do; I am already subjecting myself to all manner of tearings-in-two, poring over the heart-rending canines in need of homes on the refuge web page one minute before clicking over to look at the programme for the Philharmonie de Paris, Airbnb apartments on the Ile St Louis, ravishing mountain dwellings in Epirus, while deciding which museums to visit in Amsterdam next month and how to maximise our chances of seeing the Northern Lights from Reykjavik in December, etc etc. Such a beautiful but delicious cake, can I not have it and eat it? The darker side of this is also a sense of a world beyond our hearth and garden tearing itself apart, free movement about which for pleasure and sightseeing seems more and more an ironic anomaly and blind indulgence (as well as growing more fraught if train travel is to become as problematic and hedged about with security as flying, which I'll happily mostly eschew), so the temptation to close our own doors to it, turn in on ourselves, count our blessings and live out our quietist lives, snuggled down with a warm and grateful dog, grows stronger and stronger. 

Ah well, we'll see.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

And for good measure, some rectangles

A better view of the octopus hat. The recipient says the day it arrived he wore it all evening watching telly. In August. Whether he will wear it again I don't know, it is rather large and floppy.

The comma butterfly again. Faded elegance. It seems to like purplish things, which flatter it.

Another flying insect on another DYC.

Another bee on another echinacea, another echinacea doing its Fibonacci thing. I love them.

And these sunflowers, which come in a marvellous range of colours, with several flowers to a stem, talking to the leeks about what it must be like to perennialise.

 Luxuriance, rather dried and Augustified.

Bread for honey. Un grand complet, pas tranché.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Pictures of things I find I have cropped into squares

Looking through the photos uploaded to the most recent web album, finding it difficult to find any common criterion by which to group them so as to make a coherent post, so I just picked out the square ones. I seem to have abandoned monthly collages but this is in the same line. Captions below, for a change.

Flower, always forget what these are called.

Echinaceas, one with bee, one with butterfly. The small tricolour bumble bees are probably the most frequent kind we get, I sometimes perceive they are nesting in areas of rough grass, generally in small colonies, I go easy with the mower but they seem quite docile. However, one rather ungratefully stung Tom on the hand the other day when, without thinking, he went to rescue it from drowning in a bucket of water. I gave him antihistamine tablets and he more or less slept for three days.

Dead head.

Courgette plant. These are very spiny. We get rather tired of courgettes quite quickly, even with just one plant, and they start looming into marrows.

I left a few leek heads; I've heard you can perennialise them. Ugly bug type of insects seem to favour them.

A jar of honey.

A bowl of mushrooms. They became curry, with cashew nuts, an unusual but good combination, more south east Asian than typically Indian.

Squinting. An octopus hat, rather large. Neck skin crêping. Latvian braid. Face must be the wrong way round, but that's mostly how I see it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Spem in Alium on 'A Very British Renaissance', visitors

We've been enjoying the repeat of 'A Very British Renaissance' on BBC4. Found Dr James Fox a bit bumptious at first, but then decided I liked him, he's only a sprig but knowledgeable, charming and not reliant on the irritating, patronising and specious modern parallels so many TV historians seem to think are a good idea. (I let Simon Schama off this judgement, Bettany Hughes I don't).

I wanted to share the bit he did on Tallis's Spem in Alium, and wondered if it was available on Youtube. As a short clip it wasn't, but in fact the whole three part series is, and in quite good HD quality. However, when it came to the section with the Tallis, though the music soundtrack had been present until then, Spem itself was removed at that point, which rendered the scene somewhat incomprehensible and pointless*. 

So I wondered if I could make my own. This took a bit of fiddling about: finding out how to download the complete video, then take a clip from it, then taking the track from the Tallis Scholars CD, then matching the section of the track with his actions, fading it out satisfactorily, and then I'm not sure it's quite synchronised perfectly, but I'm quite pleased with the result. Of course I don't really have time to mess about doing such long-winded and fiddly things on the computer, re-inventing the wheel since I haven't much of a clue what I'm doing, have to use a lot of trial and error, and will have forgotten what I've learned if I try to do it again.

Anyway, I'd recommend the series, and finding it on-line was a boon as we can't get BBC i-player here and had to miss the second episode because of our visitors.

Who have now left. It was tiring but mostly in a good, energetic, getting-out-being-a-tour-guide way, rather than in a tense and frustrating trying-not-to-be-affected-by-parents-nagging-their-recalcitrant-slug-a-bed-kids way. There was only one offspring who, when here with his sister last year, had largely dissolved into a surly adolescent blob, but now, out of her shadow perhaps, was much more forthcoming, pleasant and appreciative, not at all bad company, and we were inclined to hope that the rather original, funny, curious and chatty little boy he once was has not entirely disappeared after all.

Rather rainy and autumnal outside, nice to be to ourselves again.

(The entire Tallis' Scholars Spem in Alium is on Youtube here. You do need good sound quality, headphones, speakers, whatever, and of course I don't really need to tell you to save your sanity and not read the comments.)

*I don't know why, perhaps the recording copyright owner (I'm not sure who the artists were performing) insisted on having it removed, as happened with the Gothic Voices Dufay piece I'd used for a slideshow video a couple of years ago; Hyperion, the recording company, must have done a sweep of Youtube and pulled the video on copyright ground, along with a number of others. I know they had every right to do this, and I had no right to use it, but I found it mean-spirited and cutting off their noses to spite their faces, since more people might have heard it and been inclined to follow up links and even buy their recordings after seeing it than will now, and I never bother reading their newsletters or even think of ordering from them any more. Better I think to take the line that the Tallis Scholars do, that you can use their music for personal videos but just don't try to monetise it, the right to do so being theirs (Youtube are now very quick to pick up on and label third party content now, and give guidelines about this, which is good really). Whole massive albums of music on Jordi Savall's Alia Vox label are available on Youtube, and no one seems to worry. They are, I imagine, seen as free promotion; they make a point of making their CDs objects of beauty with abundant material included that you would want to have for its own sake, and their live performances experiences beyond the recorded music. Rant over.

Friday, August 07, 2015

20 minutes: bird's nest

Which is a bit what my head feels like just now, inside and out. 

Finding myself again with a lot of odds and sods I might be able to blog about, and having got so far as to get a number of them uploaded onto a web album and Youtube, but lacking the power of concentration to gather them all together into a satisfying and coherent post, I shall try to put them up in small packages and be quick about it, as before.

Tom has been attacking the garden with a will, and a pair of tree-loppers.

 (Look, there he is, lurking in the undergrowth -


He found this,

and carefully cut it away, including its supporting armature of cotoneaster branches, to show me.

We don't know quite who it belonged to; trying to find out was interesting. It's considerably more finely made than most of the blackbird nests we find, though it might just be a serious minded blackbird with a better sense of design than most. The blue baler twine, I think, adds a decided William Morris touch.

It can't be a song thrush, since although it is held together with carefully applied mud/cow dung, in a wattle and daub fashion, it is not lined with it, added with saliva and smoothed out, which it seems is what they do.

It might be a mistle thrush, as we certainly have those around and they are fond of interleaving a variety of found objects within the structure.  Anyway, it has an aesthetic of its own.


We have our usual annual summer visitors coming tomorrow (we hope, travel problems - desperate migrants in the tunnel, tyre-burning ferry workers at the border, stroppy French farmers on the roads etc - permitting), less one female (step-)grandchild on the brink of her majority who has decided to spread her wings and go visit friends in California, which is kind of weird and exciting and a little poignant, we thought she was still only about eleven. Hence I feel a bit dishevelled and chaotic, since it's only when visitors come that I discover how many neglected and grubby corners the house has and that I'm not quite sure where all the spare bed linen is. But on the premise of want-something-done-ask-a busy-person I might actually be inclined to get here regularly for a bit visitors notwithstanding.

Now, time for more wine.